Back in college, when I played ultimate frisbee, I had a mental switch that got flipped during games. I goofed around a lot in practices, but I was always paying attention to details and techniques. Days, weeks, months, and eventually years of practices and scrimmages became automatic movement and absolute certainty that I could do whatever I needed to. Those hours of trial and error turned into pinpoint moments of clean execution.
It was exhilarating to perform like that, but also kind of confusing for me to witness from an “out of body” perspective. I’ve never seen myself as a great athlete or highly talented in any sport that I’ve played. However, over the course of years that I played ultimate frisbee, I started to realize that I had become “good” at it. I often wondered how that happened and I couldn’t really put my finger on it. We will come back to this in a moment.
Training intentionally puts stress to your system. Whether it’s pressure under weight or simple downward force from gravity, all training is some form of tension. Moving weight creates micro-tearing in your muscles. When they repair themselves, muscles come back stronger and more powerful. Building time under tension with bodyweight exercises or cardiovascular activities creates tensile fiber strength in those same muscles (your muscles, including your heart, become more efficient). This persistent pressure experienced in training makes you stronger, faster, and more conditioned.
Over the past months and weeks, COVID-19 has dramatically changed your schedule, your daily life, and your training. This whole scenario is a stunning pressurization of your soul. But there is a choice now: use it and let yourself come out of it stronger and more efficient or hide from it and let it break you.
Let me be very clear though: I am not talking about anything physical. Not financial. Not fitness related. Not socially. Nothing like that. What we are talking about is attitude; your mental and emotional response to outside stimulus. My favorite quote of all time directly addresses this:
“The last of the human freedoms: to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you become the plaything to circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity… – Viktor Frankl
Let’s revisit the story about playing ultimate frisbee. Years after, I realized that I was not suddenly “good” at frisbee. I made choice after choice that gave me opportunities to get better and build skill and strength where I needed it. But they were choices and there were always opportunities to choose to do nothing. The pressure cooker of athletic competition made me stronger, but only because I chose to use it that way and I chose to enjoy the process of struggling and working through things.
When you began working out, you turned on the pressure cooker for your body. As you arrived at your gym or your living room day-in and day-out, the biggest factor for progress (compliance) began to change your body and mind. Show up, do the work, and get better. Now in the midst of this pandemic, you have a totally different pressure cooker. It’s not compliance anymore. It’s not about showing up. Now it’s about making decision after decision and choice after choice to be emotionally powerful. It’s about taking the mentality of a fighter, even when you are probably a victim of unavoidable pandemic circumstances. Moving forward is about letting the pressure turn coal into diamond. But you have to be aware of it and you have to make decisions on purpose.
I’m extremely interested to see how people evolve after these difficult and terrible times. My anticipation for the future is high, because people tend to rise up to challenges. I can’t wait to be part of the inevitable surge of humanity that follows in the wake of this pandemic. What we are dealing with right now is hard, scary, and painful. But discomfort generates growth and strength. We’re going to see a lot of powerful choices and amazing people rise out of the ashes of COVID-19.
I’d like to conclude with some recognition of my own privilege. It’s important to note that these thoughts and feelings describe an experience I am working through personally. However, my life circumstances probably leave me in the top 1% of lucky people who are going through this pandemic. So I can talk about my experiences and what I’m doing about it, but I do not pretend that all other people have the innate privilege or current stability to work through this or anything else in their life the same way. I realize that my experiences are deeply and irrevocably framed within that lens.